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Co-Parenting During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Across the country, the current COVID-19 pandemic means schools and daycares are closed and there are significant disruptions to employees and business owners. At Cox & Palmer, we are working to ensure that we provide timely and responsive advice to our clients with custody and other family law issues. Below we will answer some of the most pressing questions from our family law clients.
Should my children still be spending time with both parents?
If you have a separation agreement or court order, the terms of those agreements for parenting schedules, custody, or access, still apply. Accordingly, unless there is a clear risk to the child, the normal schedules should be followed.
Parents with healthy and positive co-parenting relationships are strongly encouraged to have frank discussions about their ability to comply with the current recommendations from the Public Health Agency of Canada with respect to social distancing, self-isolation, and hygiene (see: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html). There may also be practical implications about which parent is capable of providing care while schools and daycares are closed (for example, if one parent is still working outside the home).
If one parent has employment (i.e. health care worker, truck driver, grocery store clerk) that may put them at heightened risk for transmission of COVID-19, we would encourage parents to set aside any acrimony and come to the resolution that focusses on both their responsibilities to do what is in their child’s best interest and also meets their civic responsibility to stop the spread of COVID-19. This same logic would apply to any parent returning from outside Canada as during the 14-day period of self-isolation they should not have in-person contact with their children to avoid the potential spread of COVID-19.
For parents who cannot see their children in-person, we would strongly recommend continued contact through telephone or videoconferencing and for those parents who have their parenting time interrupted during this period, we would strongly recommend that additional parenting time be offered later in the year.
What do I do if I’ve been laid off from employment?
In recent weeks, many parents unexpectedly have found themselves laid off or terminated from their employment with an unknown date of return to work. The full implications of the pandemic are still unknown. If you have a support obligation to your former spouse or co-parent, you may be concerned about how you are going to make that payment given the interruption or reduction to your income.
Due to the inability to seek a variation from the Court at the present time, the best option is to be open and frank with the support recipient and provide disclosure to support your request to decrease your support for the time being.
If your support obligation is paid through the Office of Support Enforcement, you should also contact your case worker to discuss any other options available to you until you can make a formal request to the Court to adjust your support.
What is the current status of Family Court?
In New Brunswick the Family Division of the Court of Queen’s Bench is presently only holding hearings for a limited number of matters relating to child protection and intimate partner violence (see: https://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/departments/jag/justice/content/covid-19.html#3). This has resulted in all matters scheduled before the Court from March 16, 2020, being adjourned indefinitely. This has also resulted in the inability for hearing dates to be assigned to newly filed documents. We cannot stress the impact that this is likely to have on the court system when the pandemic has ended as the family court docket was already overburdened and struggling to meet the demand.
Effective March 19, 2020, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, which includes the Family Division, moved to an essential services only model. While trials presently underway will continue until conclusion, all other matters are adjourned unless deemed urgent by the presiding judge (see: https://www.courts.ns.ca/News_of_Courts/documents/NSSC_Essential_Services_Model_03_19_20.pdf). Where possible, telephone and videoconferencing are being used to limit potential social interactions.
In Prince Edward Island, effective March 24, 2020, all in-person appearances in the Superior Court (which includes the Family Division) are suspended until further notice (see: https://www.courts.pe.ca/sites/www.courts.pe.ca/files/2020-03/Covid-19%20March%2024%202020.pdf). Any urgent and emergency matters are continuing with the use of telephone and videoconferencing, where possible. Documents can be filed by email and where paper filing is necessary, to the drop boxes located at each court.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Courts (including the Family Division) have adjourned all non-urgent matters scheduled between March 16, 2020 and May 22, 2020 for 10 weeks from the scheduled date (see: https://court.nl.ca/provincial/COVID-19_Operational_Plan-Provincial_Court.pdf). Child/Adult protection, Emergency Protection Orders and family emergencies are considered urgent matters and will continue, using technology where possible to limit in-person appearances. At present, all filings must be sent by mail, email or fax.
Given this climate, we are strongly encouraging parties to resolve any issues possible outside of Court even in high conflict relationships. The lawyers at Cox & Palmer are here, at a socially appropriate distance, to assist our client’s in trying to come to resolutions during this difficult time.